Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray
When you’re starting to use a circular saw, it can be overwhelming to figure out the proper techniques. But just a few tips can help you get a cut above the rest with your woodworking.
Some of these might seem basic, but that’s often what makes exceptional woodworkers better than amateurs: they have perfected the basics.
Of course, there are more advanced techniques and others that we don’t cover, but these will help you get comfortable using your circular saw.
Support Your Cut
A lot of people think they know how to support the wood they’re cutting. But poor support technique is shockingly common and is an easy way to make your cuts messier and less accurate.
Don’t Support Both Sides
Many beginning woodworkers support the wood they’re cutting on both ends when they use circular saws.
This is a poor technique for supporting wood. When you cut wood that’s supported at both sides, it starts to bend down when you’re almost finished cutting it. That bend pinches the blade, causing the wood to move unpredictably.
Supporting both sides of the board will make your cuts messier and can cause you harm. When you can’t predict how your bucking boards will move, you can’t protect yourself.
Use Spacer Sticks
One way to avoid double-sided supports is to use spacer sticks. If you’re cutting a very long board, setting it on a single sawhorse won’t be enough support.
Instead, you can place the board on top of several spacer sticks underneath the side of the board you aren’t cutting off. These spacer sticks provide additional support to the board and let you cut off large pieces without worrying about blade pinching.
Because of its size, plywood can be tricky to support. Even if you’re only cutting off a small portion, it can be heavy enough to bind the saw, bending the blade and creating serious issues with safety as well as the woodcutting itself.
If you only support one end of the plywood, the heavy end you’re cutting off can droop down, bend, and eventually bind your blade or splinter the wood.
But if you only support the two ends of the plywood, the same issues discussed above can happen. Instead, you should use 2x4s to support the plywood along its entire length.
Without proper support, cutting plywood can be difficult and dangerous. But the proper technique makes it the quick, simple task it should be.
Choose Your Blade
When you bought your circular saw, it probably came with a standard, 24-tooth blade. That can be a very useful tool in general, but that blade isn’t suitable for every cut you’ll want to make. Instead, there are a few factors you should consider when choosing the best circular saw blade for you.
Number of Teeth
The number of teeth on your circular saw blade affects how clean your cut is. It can also affect the blade’s price and the speed at which it cuts.
Having more teeth usually means a more smooth, clean cut. For example, you might want a 36-tooth finishing blade if you’re cutting something where precision is especially important or where you care about the edge’s appearance.
However, having more teeth also means the saw will need to work harder in order to make the same cut. That will make your cuts slower, so if speed is important, you should consider a blade with fewer teeth.
Finally, larger teeth are easier and cheaper to manufacture than smaller ones. That makes blades with more teeth more expensive to manufacture, and that cost is passed on to the consumer.
Hook or Rake Angle
A saw blade’s hook or rake is the angle of the teeth. Positive angles point down towards the material the saw cuts, and a negative angle will be less aggressive.
In effect, a positive rake angle will pull the material towards the saw, meaning that you can cut much more quickly and aggressively. However, this can cause the cuts to be messier. It can also be dangerous with especially tough materials like metal.
A negative angle does just the opposite, cutting through materials more slowly and smoothly. Like with tooth count, the tradeoff is between smooth, slow cuts, and fast, messy ones.
As you might have already discovered, the part of the wood where you start cutting with a circular blade is usually cleaner than the side you finish on. This is called a tearout, and fortunately, it is preventable.
First, you can score the line where you plan to make your cut. That means setting your blade to a depth of about 1/16th of an inch and making a shallow cut along your line. Then, you can cut your wood much more cleanly than you’d otherwise be able to.
Next, you can build your own guide to support your saw as you make your cut. A guided cut can take a little longer to set up, but it has two benefits: it will have almost no tearout and be perfectly straight.
You can also try putting some tape underneath the area you plan to cut. The tape will hold the wood together until it’s cut, binding it together and preventing tearout from wood that’s falling apart.
Another way to prevent the wood from falling apart as you make cuts is with proper support. This is one reason that supporting wood gets its own section in this article–supporting your wood well will solve many different problems at once.
Cutting the Bottom
Tearout is most pronounced where the blade enters the wood. That means that if you’re concerned about tearout on one particular side of the wood, you can cut with the other side on top and prevent tearout where it matters most.
If you see a mistake in your cut, go ahead and start over. This is hard for many beginners to accept, but you’ll be much better served if you just start a new cut.
When they see their circular saw start to drift away, many beginners will try and turn the blade back towards their cut line. That’s an understandable instinct, but it will result in an imperfect final cut.
Instead, you should take the saw away and start a new cut. This can hurt to do, especially with protracted and difficult projects, but it’s the best way to guarantee that your final product will be everything you want it to be.
Make Quality Rip Cuts
A rip cut is a cut along the grain of lumber. These can be much more difficult than your typical crosscuts and can ruin a piece of wood if done improperly.
Typically, you’ll want to make your rip cuts with a table saw, but if you don’t have one available, you can make high-quality rip cuts with your circular saw by following a few key tips.
Clamp a Guide
If the material you’re cutting is wide enough, you should clamp a guide to it before you start making your cut. This will make your cut easier and more controlled, helping ensure a clean final product.
Secure the Board
You should also secure the board you’re cutting. A rip cut can cause the board to buck and jerk unpredictably, so securing it well is an important part of preparing your rip cut with a circular saw.
Some people use clamps to secure their boards for rip cuts, but clamps can get in the way and not provide the security you need. Instead, others choose to nail the board to the sawhorses before cutting.
Use a Track
Some people choose to guide their circular saws with an add-on track system. The track secures the saw and gives it a perfectly straight line to follow as you make your cut.
Unfortunately, these add-on tracks are an additional expense and may not be within everyone’s budget. They also take time to set up, so it might not be worth it for small or less important projects.
But a track is one of the best ways to make sure your rip cuts are as straight as possible. If you need a high-quality rip cut and only have a circular saw, an add-on track system might be your best option.
Leave Room for Cutoffs
Some woodworkers are so focused on the wood they’re cutting, that they don’t think about what will happen with the scrap they cut off. That’s why you need to make sure you have room for wood to fall away from the piece you’re cutting.
If you’re cutting lumber on a sawhorse, the piece you cut off will fall to the ground. But you need to make sure that area of the ground is clear for falling wood. If it has a switch, a delicate project, or your foot, you’ll likely be unhappy with the outcome.
You can also leave your cutoffs on a stable, flat surface where they are supported as well. This typically avoids the issues of falling cutoffs, and keeps the scrap wood from getting banged up in case you’d like to use it later.